Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Venice Biennale: Day 2, Pavilions in San Marco

I’m in Venice for the Arts in Society Conference, which means that day two of my Venice Biennale encounter is fairly limited in terms of the amount of art I can experience (I’m not sure that the word ‘view’ is adequate for a large percentage of the artworks at the Biennale). I manage to sneak away from the conference to see a couple of nearby pavilions scattered around the western San Marco area: the Republic of Cyprus, Estonia, the Republic of Gambon, Luxembourg, Iran and the Republic of Slovenia. Of these pavilions, I’m most taken with Rumours by Socratis Socratous from Cyprus (and no it’s not just because of his name), and the Slovenian Miha Strukelj’s Interference in Process.
Stickers for the various national pavilions in San Marco, assisting victims of Venice's maze-like streets.
Socratous’ installed work is based upon a recent event in Cyprus where a number of palm trees were imported into the country to create an ‘exotic, eastern feeling to the local environment’ (artist statement). Rumours started to spread that Cobra eggs were hidden amongst the roots of these trees and that they had started to hatch. The resulting exhibition includes a large palm tree lying horizontally across the floor, videoed interviews, photographs, a collage of text, and most intriguingly, a room that is shut off from public entry by a clear acrylic barrier. The space is set up to look like a one-room home, filled with a messy combination of bed, carpets, clothes and most worryingly, an empty glass snake enclosure. At the entrance to the room, leaning up against the barrier, is equipment familiar to me as those used for snake handling. I stand at the barrier for a long time, looking for a sleek shiny body. I’m tempted to tap the glass, but after reading Harry Potter I feel guilty about disturbing the potential snake (ridiculous, I know). Then I do something that I still regret – I ask the bored looking attendant (the Cyprus pavilion is hard to find, so I’m guessing the flow of visitors may be a little slow) whether there’s actually a snake in the room. On reflection, I would have preferred not knowing.
Miha Strukelj’s work in the Slovenian pavilion is described in the Art World guide to Venice as examining “the issue of perception in five equal segments via painting and drawing.” Now, I don’t know if he changed his mind sometime between the press release and the work but the exhibition and the above description don’t seem to match up. In fact, the exhibition as a whole doesn’t seem very well resolved, but I’m taken by his drawings, which are directly applied to the walls of at least half of the difficultly shaped bottom floor. Looking at times like a road map, or if you squint your eyes you can alternatively see the outlines of buildings, the drawings lapse in and out of these line drawings and what appears to be planning grids and even scribbled mathematical equations. The wall drawing works well with the odd space, the staircase, and the hall that leads to nowhere. Unfortunately, the freestanding painted canvases and drawings that make up the rest of the exhibition are comparatively underwhelming.
Next up: Day 3 of the Venice Biennale - the Arsenale

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